(directed by Stanley Kubrick)
Perhaps the most singularly alienating and impenetrable film I’ve ever seen. Granted, I am far from possessing an encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema as I type this now (something I hope doesn’t disqualify this take in your eyes). But even if I did, I’m certain this baffling piece of art? sci-fi? entertainment? (actually no, definitely not), would hold its own against whatever oddities lurk less prominently in the movie canon.
Before the weirdness, what are the Odyssey’s obvious strengths? Production values and special effects as immaculate as anything from its era; a high watermark for model (spaceship) shots, and the wonderful 60s vision of space-travel (when flying was still an occasion).
Best of all though, the mid-section of the film, and HAL – a charismatic despot AI like no other, brought to life by the brilliant voice-acting of Douglas Rain. This mid-section is the only part of the film with something resembling an obvious plot, a standard structure, or indeed a standard villain. It’s the film’s strongest act. However, there’s a problem. This act has no baring whatsoever on either of the sections which make up the bulk of the film. Indeed, it could almost be from a different film altogether.
The real 2001 plays as a series of art shots, set to classical music. That is, the large part of the opening 40 minutes, and almost the entirety of the final 40 minutes. In the former, one is inclined to go along with Kubrick’s more highbrow whimsies in the expectation these passages will coalesce as we near the conclusion.
Instead, one is treated to a finale infinitely more baffling. Quite how is difficult to describe, particularly with spoilers in mind. What can be said is it conforms to no known preconceptions as to how a film should end. My reading? It serves only to expose the snobs who read profound, metaphysical conclusions into an epilogue which makes so little sense it may as well have been created in the Infinite Beyond to which it transports us.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a work so impenetrable, so alienating, one might imagine this is because it is badly made. There is, however, one more piece to this picture that leaves me inclined to think differently. The Obelisk; a blank, impassive alien object whose presence haunts throughout, represents the one tangible point of reference in this otherwise otherworldly fugue. The Obelisk represents something every bit as alienating and difficult to comprehend as the experience of watching the film. I think it’s Death. The more I think about it, the more alienated I become. Couldn’t be clearer could it?